Illinois Child Welfare Agency Dropped the Ball on 24 Abuse Cases

News: US News
by Stephen Wynne  •  •  September 19, 2019   

DCFS admits complaints were never adequately addressed

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CHICAGO ( - Illinois' child welfare agency has opened investigations into 24 clerical sex abuse allegations in the archdiocese of Chicago, concerned that the cases were never sufficiently addressed.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reported that a recent internal review by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) revealed that the agency may have improperly reviewed more than 1,000 reports of clerical sex abuse in Chicago.

Under a 2006 voluntary agreement, the archdiocese is required to notify DCFS of all allegations of clerical sex abuse, even if the accuser is no longer a minor. Since then, Church officials have forwarded roughly 1,100 allegations to the agency.

Marc Smith, DCFS acting director since March, told the Tribune that he was previously unaware of the policy and discovered the cases only after looking into a recent abuse allegation.

Concerned that the notification process has fallen off the agency's radar, Smith set out to review protocol for handling archdiocesan abuse allegations, hiring Cleveland-based law firm Thompson Hine to conduct the assessment.

Marc Smith, DCFS acting director (AP)

"At this point, it's not clear exactly what happened with each of the 1,100 cases," he said. "We've asked somebody to come in and do an evaluation to help us get a better picture of exactly what happened. We know that it's best for us to take our time in these kind [sic] of scenarios to review exactly what happened."

Under Smith's direction, DCFS staff examined the 1,100 reports and determined that 24 required deeper investigation, as it unknown where the accused priests live and whether they currently have access to minors.

"The major concern from DCFS is that while the victims may be adults, the priests may still have access to children," said agency spokesman Jassen Strokosch. "What we don't know is what happened from 2006 to 2019."

The Chicago archdiocese is distancing itself from the revelations, faulting DCFS for the apparent lapse in protocol.

John O'Malley, former director of legal services for the archdiocese, said chancery officials were unaware of problems with the notification system until they were informed by DCFS.

"We've got to be very careful," O'Malley said, "that what we do voluntarily — because we want to do it and for the right reasons — doesn't become some element of negative judgment because this process didn't work maybe as well as it could have, that it's some failing on our part."

The archdiocese of Chicago has shelled out $220 million in sex abuse settlements since 2001.

According to archdiocesan spokeswoman Paula Waters, chancery officials corresponded regularly with DCFS for several years after the 2006 agreement was signed. But twice-yearly face-to-face meetings fell off in 2016, she said, amid increasing budgetary and managerial instability inside the agency. Waters added that archdiocesan attorneys reached out to DCFS to arrange additional meetings, but were unable to secure dates with the agency.

The DCFS controversy comes amid an ongoing investigation by state justice officials into clerical sex abuse cover-up. Shortly before leaving office in December, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan revealed that her team had uncovered 500 unreported predator priest cases across the state's six dioceses, bringing the total number of accused Illinois clergy to nearly 700.

Kwame Raoul, Illinois attorney general

Last month, current Attorney General Kwame Raoul met with Chicago Cdl. Blase Cupich to discuss the investigation. The hour-long closed-door session — held at Cupich's request — sparked unease among victims and their advocates. Apprehension increased after Raoul rejected calls to subpoena Church leaders, saying such action was unnecessary.

"It is clear based on the work done by [Raoul's] predecessor — not to mention other attorneys general across the country — that subpoenas are necessary in order to get to the full truth as it relates to cases of abuse and cover-up," said Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

"Not only do we know that institutions cannot be counted on to police themselves generally," he added, "but we know that the Catholic Church specifically has 'secret archives,' as mandated by canon law, in which they hide abuse files in order to keep police and the public from fully grasping the depths of these crimes."

The archdiocese of Chicago has shelled out $220 million in sex abuse settlements since 2001.

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